Sadly, there is a very real possibility that you will be faced with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis – either yours or that of a loved one — at some point during your lifetime. If that happens, will you know what to do? There is no way to fully prepare for the emotional impact of Alzheimer’s; however, there are things you can do to prepare for the medical, legal, and practical ramifications of the disease in case you or a loved one is diagnosed. With that in mind, the Beverly estate planning attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices explain what you need to know about Alzheimer’s disease.
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, deterioration of thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. These neurons, which produce the brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, break connections with other nerve cells and ultimately die. For example, short-term memory fails when Alzheimer’s disease first destroys nerve cells in the hippocampus, and language skills and judgment decline when neurons die in the cerebral cortex. Unlike many other diseases, such as AIDS, experts do not believe Alzheimer’s has a single cause. Instead, they believe the disease is multi-faceted with several factors influencing the development of the disease. The complexity of the disease makes finding a cure, and even effective treatment for those suffering from the disease, more difficult. While there are some medications on the market now that help slow the cognitive decline that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s for some people, we are not yet close to finding a truly effective treatment regime, much less a cure.
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease
Although experts are working hard to find an accurate way to predict, with certainty, who will develop Alzheimer’s, they are not there yet. Scientists and doctors do, however, believe that there are risk factors that increase your odds of developing the disease, including:
- Age. Experts tell us that age is the greatest risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The older you are, the higher the risk of developing the disease. One in nine people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, and this figure rises to one in three for people over the age of 85.
- Family History. Experts also appear to agree that family plays a role in predicting who will develop Alzheimer’s disease. A family history of Alzheimer’s disease will increase your chance of getting the condition, particularly if it is a brother, sister, mother, or father who had/has the disease. The risk is greater if more than one family member has or has had the disease.
- Genetics. Researchers have identified certain mutated genes associated with the disease. Anyone who inherits a copy of the APOE-e4 gene is at greater risk, and the risk is even greater if they inherit two copies of the gene. There are also deterministic genes that, if inherited, would guarantee the onset of the disease. This only accounts for around 1 percent of Alzheimer’s cases and often the patients suffer from early onset.
- Head Injury. We don’t hear much about this one, but there is evidence to suggest that head trauma may lead to Alzheimer’s disease, particularly repeated head trauma.
- Heart Health. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease increases if you suffer from conditions that can affect the heart, such as stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
- Race. Latinos and African Americans are one and one-half to two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than Caucasians. The reason for this is unclear, although many think the higher rate of heart problems in Latinos and African Americans may be the cause.
Steps to Take after an Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis
- Update your estate plan, focusing on incapacity planning. The progression of Alzheimer’s is far from predictable; however, at some point down the road, you will reach the point at which you are legally incapacitated. To ensure that someone of your choosing takes over control of your assets as well as personal decision-making for you, make sure you have an incapacity plan in place now.
- Update a Power of Attorney. A traditional Power of Attorney (POA) terminates upon the incapacity of the Principal (creator). If you want a POA to survive your incapacity you must make it durable. Keep in mind, however, that in most states, an Agent cannot make end-of-life healthcare decisions even with a general POA. For that, you will need an advance directive.
- Create an advanced directive. If you have strong feelings about end-of-life medical treatment, the only way to ensure that your wishes are honored is to execute an advance directive that expresses those wishes and/or appoint an Agent to make decisions for you when you are unable to make them yourself.
- Plan for the cost of long-term care. Most Alzheimer’s sufferers eventually need the type of around-the-clock care and protection that is only available at a long-term care facility. The cost of that care will undoubtedly be prohibitive which is why you need to plan for it now. Like over half of all seniors today, you may need to rely on Medicaid to cover the cost of LTC. To ensure that you qualify for Medicaid when the time comes, incorporate Medicaid planning into your estate plan today.
- Let your family know what you want. Family members often struggle with how best to care for someone with Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, conflict may even occur if family members cannot agree on some aspect of your care. To help prevent that and provide some direction, write down your wishes regarding care, finances, and anything else you feel is important, and make sure everyone gets a copy.
Contact North Andover Estate Planning Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions about estate planning, contact our estate planning attorneys in our North Andover, Woburn, and Beverly offices at (978) 969-0331. Our Londonderry and Nashua, New Hampshire office can be reached at (603) 894-4141.
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